Linux

The five fastest-booting Linux distributions

You may not have to reboot Linux very often. But when you do, these peppy distributions will have you up and running in a matter of seconds.

Reboots tend to be rare with Linux. Usually, they're due to a kernel update or an environmental issue. But regardless of the reason, it's crucial it come back to life quickly. One issue surrounding Linux of late is boot time. Some distributions have made it a key feature to attract users. Some have even succeeded in reaching that magic 10-second number. But which distributions boot fastest? Let's take a look.

NOTE: Console logins do not count.

1: Puppy Linux

Puppy Linux is not the fastest-booting distribution in this crowd, but it's one of the fastest. And what's unique about this distribution is that it will boot faster than your standard OS, even when it's booting from the Live CD. Of course, some may claim, "It's not a full-blown OS". But it is. Although many view Puppy more as a rescue distribution, it's a full-blown distribution that offers nearly every tool you need to do what you need to do.

  • Average boot time: 26 seconds.

2: Linpus Lite Desktop Edition

Linpus Lite Desktop Edition is an alternative desktop OS featuring the GNOME desktop with a few minor tweaks. Linpus is definitely not a distribution you will use and try to tweak into any sort of server OS -- this is desktop only. And although Linpus does have everything you need to use a desktop, you might find some of the applications a little out of date (such as Firefox 6.0).

  • Average boot time: 21 seconds.

3: Arch Linux

Arch Linux is another lightweight distribution that aims to have a lightning-fast boot time. This distribution focuses on simplicity, minimalism, and elegant code -- so naturally it's going to boast quick boot times. Although out of the box, Arch isn't the fastest booting Linux in town, it can be tweaked enough to best the best. This distribution is based on the pacman package manager and should be easy enough for most users (maybe not the newest newbies) to manage.

  • Average boot time: 18 seconds.

4: Slax

Slax is unique in that you can fully customize the distribution you download. Because of this, you can create one seriously lean desktop distribution that will boot nearly as quickly as you like. I managed to create a distribution with Slax (focusing only on specific desktop needs for writing and graphic design) that not only could serve me well, but could do so quickly. To build your unique Slax download, visit the Slax Builder to begin. Believe it or not, it's not that difficult to create your very own Linux with Slax.

  • Average boot time: 16 seconds.

5: Ubuntu 11.10

Ubuntu 11.10 is the king of quick boots. It was the first fully loaded desktop distribution that could claim the 10-second boot time. And I have witnessed that boot time firsthand. The 10-second boot doesn't require seriously overpowered hardware, either. This magic number can be reached, without tweaks, on average hardware you can purchase off the rack. Even with the less-than-desired Ubuntu Unity, you can have your desktop up and running, from cold boot, in around 10 seconds.

  • Average boot time: 10 seconds.

On your mark...

Yes you could also make a case for any of the Google Chrome-like or Splashtop OSes that can have you up and running in three to five seconds, but that was not the intent here. I wanted to focus on distributions that could be considered full desktops. And although you may not get the same results I did on your boot times, there are always plenty of tweaks to be made to further speed up your Linux desktop boot.

Additional reading

How fast?

What has been your fastest boot time in Linux -- or any operating system, for that matter? Share with your fellow TechRepublic readers.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

12 comments
mbspringer133
mbspringer133

Damn Small Linux is a very versatile 50MB mini desktop oriented Linux distribution. Damn Small is small enough and smart enough to do the following things: Boot from a business card CD as a live linux distribution (LiveCD) Boot from a USB pen drive Boot from within a host operating system (that's right, it can run *inside* Windows) Run very nicely from an IDE Compact Flash drive via a method we call "frugal install" Transform into a Debian OS with a traditional hard drive install Run light enough to power a 486DX with 16MB of Ram Run fully in RAM with as little as 128MB (you will be amazed at how fast your computer can be!) Modularly grow -- DSL is highly extendable without the need to customize DSL was originally developed as an experiment to see how many usable desktop applications can fit inside a 50MB live CD. It was at first just a personal tool/toy. But over time Damn Small Linux grew into a community project with hundreds of development hours put into refinements including a fully automated remote and local application installation system and a very versatile backup and restore system which may be used with any writable media including a hard drive, a floppy drive, or a USB device. DSL has a nearly complete desktop, and a tiny core of command line tools. All applications are chosen with the best balance of functionality, size and speed. Damn Small also has the ability to act as an SSH/FTP/HTTPD server right off of a live CD. In our quest to save space and have a fully functional desktop we've made many GUI administration tools which are fast yet still easy to use. What does DSL have? XMMS (MP3, CD Music, and MPEG), FTP client, Dillo web browser, Netrik web browser, FireFox, spreadsheet, Sylpheed email, spellcheck (US English), a word-processor (Ted), three editors (Beaver, Vim, and Nano [Pico clone]), graphics editing and viewing (Xpaint, and xzgv), Xpdf (PDF Viewer), emelFM (file manager), Naim (AIM, ICQ, IRC), VNCviwer, Rdesktop, SSH/SCP server and client, DHCP client, PPP, PPPoE (ADSL), a web server, calculator, generic and GhostScript printer support, NFS, Fluxbox and JWM window managers, games, system monitoring apps, a host of command line tools, USB support, and pcmcia support, some wireless support.

aiellenon
aiellenon

I used to have a P4 HT that would boot win XP in 21-34 seconds, my 6 core 8GB ram Ubuntu 11.10 box starts up in about 5-8 minutes, but 4 of that is POST time, as my MB has 3 RAID controllers in/on it and 9 HDDs it takes a while. I used to run Slax on a dual core celeron 1.2GHz 1GB ram laptop and it would boot in 8 seconds or less every time, from a 2GB USB stick Puppy linux on the same laptop would take 12-17 seconds windows 7 on my 6 core "Might" be booted and "usable" in 7-10 minutes, depends on if it crashes while loading the wrong driver for my 6GB/s SATA III controller that it refuses to accept the correct drivers for.

nev75
nev75

My Gentoo build boot up about 2-5 seconds.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

I know that in the past that I could make a snapshot in VBox and it would boot to the snapshot without the preliminaries.Did you ever see Linux boot?It's black background and white characters.Just make a snapshot of the running computer and boot to that.Linux would always freeze up at the password entry so there is some progress here.Elive is really cool but is the most ancient during the boot.Some Linux could even be for industry.Broadcast would be using Linux in day to day.Weather is probably Linux.

a.portman
a.portman

1. I am going to assume you used the same hardware for all of these tests. It would be nice to know what it was. 2. Since my Linux computer is a laptop, boot time is important, all the time. My Windows 7 beast of a laptop can be running in under three minutes, most days. 3. On the other hand, my Peppermint OS laptop, with 1 Gb of RAM and a sub 2 GHz processor, needs 30 to 45 seconds to go from black screen to ready to go. Adding OpenOffice adds about 15 seconds to the boot time over GoogleApps.

davist@childrensfactory.
davist@childrensfactory.

Though it seems to be either in limbo or among the living dead, the old Meego/Moblin distro would not only boot to the desktop but I was able to be sitting at google.com on a EeePC 900a (1gb ram 4gb sdd, 1.6Mhz single core) in about 15 seconds. I wish they could get that distro project in full swing somewhere as nothing ran faster on my netbook.

paulfx1
paulfx1

Blame an OS for your hardware choices. Or be too surprised if esoteric selections lead to bizarre results. I have found that with computers rational thought, even being reasonable, can pay substantial dividends. It sure sounds to me like you are practicing your own version of crap shoot computing over there to me. Sometimes the player wins, more often the house does though. So unless you own the house it doesn't pay to gamble. Bet with your head, not over it. You should really pay attention to the lyrics of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kn481KcjvMo I think some of your decisions I'd have run from. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. --A. Einstein

paulfx1
paulfx1

Do you mean POST before the OS loads? What does POST have to do with the OS? Maybe we should include the time it took for the factory to assemble the machine along with boot time as well? Then Windows would stand a chance in the competition. No, POST time does not count, and cannot even be counted for OS boot time. The OS itself is used to clock its own boot. Either you use fine grained time in syslog, or a program that replaces init with timing software. Either way you get nanosecond accuracy. Lets see you hit a stopwatch button that fast. "Linux would always freeze up at the password entry" What? That is your terminal process running. There is nothing frozen up about it. Type, or don't, the OS doesn't care, as it is handling any number of processes at that point. In other words by the time you see a login prompt the system is booted. You seem to want to count the time before, and after the boot process along with the boot process to me. Next we can pit Linux running against a Windows box turned off to see which can maintain its state longer. You're down with that right BALTHOR?

paulfx1
paulfx1

I might forget what I wanted to do, or lose interest before that happened! It sure would be nice to know what hardware they were using, also how the systems were configured. Most important would be if they were static or dynamic IP boxes. My i3 running Debian Squeeze comes up in 5 seconds with DHCP. It is kind of hard to believe that Ubuntu, based on Debian testing, is any faster than Debian stable. But whatever!

a.portman
a.portman

Sorry, I count from off to able to use less enter the password. Hence knowing the hardware is important (and as of yet, unanswered.) Built a Peppermint machine yesterday on an HP 5100 (circa 2004) Boot time from off to running, 38 seconds. About half of that was POST. As an XP machine, about 5 times that. But lets be real. Bringing Windows to a fast boot contest is like bringing running shoes to the Indy 500.

a.portman
a.portman

Should the POST time count as OS startup? No. Is from power off to fully running an easy to do valid test, Yes. As long as the tests are on the same box, that the first 15 seconds are being used by the BIOS doesn't matter. One thing would be to take the POST times back off. The results would be 100% accurate and meaningless. I think that power off to usable is a valid measure. It is also easy to do.

paulfx1
paulfx1

How can you time a process before the process even begins? Linux is an operating system. Linux distributions are collections of software that contain Linux. BIOSes do not fit within that set at all. You show me the repository where you can download your system's BIOS along with the OS and maybe I'll give you a pass on this, but until then be for real yourself. Timing POST makes about as much sense as timing Indy teams from when they leave their garages to go to the race. It ain't on until the flag drops!